Sandy McCulloch was just happy to be able to share a part of her world with the attentive listeners who sat as she recited her poetry.
McCulloch, who had never read her poetry for a crowd as she did for about a half-hour at the 54th annual Associated Arts Ocean Shores Arts & Crafts Festival (AAOS), was full of humility and truly appreciated her audience’s collective and total attention.
“I’m so privileged to read these to you, to share my life with you,” McCulloch said as she briefly choked up. “Wow, emotions.”
One of the many poems she shared — ranging from longer form poetry to haikus — was one about the snowy owls on Damon Point. On the page from where she read her poetry, it read:
“Silent Winds Lift
Magnificent span whispers by
Snowy on the hunt
Speckled white wings
Golden eyes scan the Earth
The hunter seeks her prey
I, enthralled by beauty,
Stand and praise God for this magnificent creature
Gracing our shores
McCulloch described what sparks her poetry. Most of what she shared was about nature. She’s seen a lot having lived in California’s Central Valley, Alaska, Oregon and now Ocean Shores.
“When I live in a place for a while, I start noticing the sunrises and sunsets and how the weather happens,” McCulloch said. “And then I’ll have these moments when I’ll just have to sit down and write about it.”
Susan DeLaire, was one of several audience members who greeted and thanked McCulloch for reading her work.
“I enjoyed her immensely,” DeLaire said.
McCulloch wasn’t the only artist who made the most of her time at the festival.
Karen Fox, whose art is oil painting, showed her gratitude for the people walking by and checking out her art.
“I do it because I love it, no matter what,” Fox said. “But it’s nice to know other people like it too.”
Whenever someone stopped by and stared at Fox’s almost photographic oil paintings of eagles, ospreys, bears, sunsets and the jetty at Ocean Shores, among others, she seemed touched because it’s not just a hobby or a commercial activity for her, it’s her life’s work and she was proud to show it.
Fox explained how she was able to create a few of her paintings. One was “Surfing,” which shows a colony of seagulls flying around the jetty in Ocean Shores.
“I felt the seagulls were surfing, Fox said.
The violent waves depicted in the scene were all too familiar for Western Washingtonians who live near the ocean.
“It was the north jetty during a king tide,” Fox said. “The waves were really high. The seagulls would fly one end to the other and then swoop down. They were having a good time.”
Fox, who started painting in 1997, has only done so full-time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. For art lovers, maybe it’s the one positive that came out of the pandemic, it allowed Fox more time to express herself with her enviable talent.
The festival offered a welcoming space for a lot of people to showcase what they do best. Fox talked about how this was a good year for the festival.
“I’m delighted with what they’ve done this year,” Fox said. “We’ve doubled the amount of booths. We have a terrific variety of artists and crafters and so far, the food is wonderful. I like that they’re having music after 5 p.m. today so we can hear it a little, too.”
Inside other artists and crafters lined the convention center. Stations included a confectioner with delicious sounding jams, an amazing wood sculpture of two whales, clear and detailed photography from North Beach, Hoquiam and Aberdeen High schools and quilters. One pair of food artisans in particular made people’s stomachs rumble — Ma & Pa’s Kettle Fudge.
Lesley and Gary Stephenson, who live in C’oeur d’Alene, Idaho, shared a massive variety of fudge behind a glass window.
Lesley talked about their home shop, where they can do wonders with the chocolate delicacy they make with real cream and real butter. They had a wide assortment of flavors, such as pineapple habañero fudge. And they had creamy, buttery fudge that people know so well, such as the mainstream chocolate flavor, dark chocolate and peanut butter fudge.
“We have a special kitchen with a commercial kettle for fudge, that’s why we’re called Ma & Pa Kettle Fudge,” Lesley Stephenson said. “Typically we can make 180 flavors, but we have 42 on hand all the time. We have an online store as well.”
What seems like a lifelong passion hasn’t been. The Stephensons have been making fudge for 11 or 12 years. It’s clearly been the right decision for the couple to open their shop. According to Lesley Stephenson, they have a nice collection of fans.
“What we hear from our customers is our fudge is creamier and we have way more flavor than what anyone else has,” Lesley Stephenson said. “I can only go by what the customers say.”
The chocolate fudge and the dark chocolate fudge were reminiscent of the famous Mackinac Island Fudge, from Michigan. Lesley and her husband take being considered “as good” as Mackinac Island Fudge as high praise.
The Stephensons also make special holiday fudge, such as pumpkin pie fudge near Thanksgiving and peppermint fudge at Christmas. The good thing for their customers is they can pump out a lot of fudge, quickly.
“The kettle makes 36 pounds of fudge in one batch,” Lesley said. “It takes about one hour and 20 minutes.”
A brief snapshot of live music
In a long line of loud and energetic bands throughout the weekend, Johnny “The Capo” and the Bad Boys were hard to miss. Just ask Maureen Gargano, the wife of Johnny Gargano, who sings and plays lead guitar for the band. Michael Johnson, on bass, and Jacob Wikan, on drums, accompanied “The Capo” well as they helped bring fun renditions of classic songs such as Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me,” and Little Richard’s “Lucille,” among others.
“I thought he was great,” Maureen said from the front row. “The choice of music they played was for everyone, from the ‘60s, Elvis, ZZ Top, Little Richard, there was something for all age groups.”
After spending a few hours sitting in the hot weekend sun, Maureen was pretty hungry.
“I’ve been sitting here and smelling everything,” Maureen said. “I might check out the turkey legs, maybe the cotton candy. Sitting here in the sun, I’ve worked up an appetite.”
One of the several visual treats of the festival was Jade Black’s self-portrait photography. The Southern California artist moved up to Western Washington for the weather. She was tired of the ultra-temperate climate of California. She wanted gray skies and, while not popular with most Harborites, rain.
So, the weather through the first couple days was not her favorite — it was in the 70s and sunny on both Friday and Saturday in Ocean Shores.
Black described what fuels her art.
“Well, each piece is very different,” Black said. “Sometimes when I’m reading a book, a scene I’m reading about will spark an idea. I do see the pictures in my head and then I make them. Or like that one right there, that nest, I bought at a store. I was looking at it and I could see all the different possibilities of a picture I can make with it. Just depends. Anything can spark inspiration.”
Black has been an artist her whole life. She said she grew up drawing and painting and her art’s only gotten more involved. She’s been in the field professionally for about 10 years.
“I studied graphic designing and then I moved over into photography,” Black said. “I’ve been doing self-portraits for about 10 years.”
While all of her art is photography, much of her collection looks like oil paintings.
“I print them on canvas to make them look like a painting,” Black said. “I’m glad that you thought they were paintings because that’s the whole point, to make them look as much like a painting as possible.”
Black wants her photography to look old and it certainly does. It’s not some variety of Instagram photos. It took time, an artist’s eye and talent to do it the way Black wants it to be.
Black spoke highly of the festival.
“I think it’s great,” Black said. “The music, that’s new. I think we did such a great job lining up different kinds of music. And then adding the poetry was just something new we haven’t done. And also I feel like we have a lot more vendors this year and we’re more focused on fine arts. Lora (Malakoff) and Karen (Fox) are both new to this festival, which added such a nice, diverse element to what we have going on here.”
Living in the moment
Mindy Morgan, a hula hoop artist who has played with the round ring for 10 years, vibed to the music on the outdoor stage. She didn’t just make the hoop circle her waist, she danced with it. Dressed in a colorful outfit under the cloudless sky, Morgan seemed to really enjoy herself and she had plenty of extra hoops for anyone interested in joining her.
“Today, I’m doing a demonstration and getting people to hoop with me,” Morgan said.
Morgan talked glowingly about the festival.
“I always love this festival,” Morgan said. “I was here last year as a participant. I just brought a single hoop. This year, they asked me to come back and bring hoops to share. It’s free to hoop. I’ve gotten a lot of people to come and hoop. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Tim Rossow, president of AAOS and director of the festival, which hosted a full, talented list of artists from Friday through Sunday, estimated the attendance number — 7,100.
“I think we are the first group to actually put people at each door to count, but I am pretty sure that’s the biggest group to ever go into the convention center for a festival,” Rossow said Monday. “Hog Wild might equal that outdoors but without a doubt the most to go into the big house.”
Rossow knows how popular the festival was because of the reviews he’s received.
“We have had all sorts of people tell us it was the best festival they have ever attended in Shores,” Rossow said.